What increases your risk of cancer?

Cancer seems to be everywhere. Given all of the possibilities, figuring out a root cause for this cancer or that cancer can be next to impossible. And some cancers are hereditary or a result of age.

Still, you can protect yourself. Your risk for a large percentage of preventable cancers can be reduced through certain diet and lifestyle choices.

“Cancer cells are the exact opposite of healthy. They’re not normal and typically result from a variety of factors,” said Jomel Labayog, MD, hematologist and medical oncologist for OSF HealthCare.

Things that can raise cancer risk

Dr. Labayog says we can reduce cancer health risks by living healthy through wise lifestyle choices. His eight areas that raise the risk of cancer:

1. Tobacco products

Cigarettes and chewing tobacco can contain up to 70 cancer-causing chemicals. Cigarette smoke is not only bad for you, but it is bad for those around you. For you, your family and the greater public health, stop smoking.

Currently, research does not indicate that electronic cigarettes, vaping and nicotine cause cancer; however, that could change as more data is collected. Introducing foreign substances into the lungs could encourage lung diseases and lung cancer.

2. Alcohol

Our bodies break down alcohol into acetaldehyde, a chemical that attacks cells and stops our bodies from repairing the damage.

3. Obesity

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, maintaining a healthy weight can lower your risk of getting 13 types of cancer. Our bodies need to move to have a strong immune system and be healthy. Pick exercises or activities that build your strength and raise your aerobic abilities.

Exercise also helps to reduce stress. Can stress cause cancer? Although there is no direct indicator that chronic stress causes cancer, stress hormones can compromise our immune system, indirectly leading to serious diseases like cancer.

4. Radiation exposure

Reduce UV exposure and other forms of radiation. Use an FDA-approved sunblock, wide-brimmed hats and long-sleeved shirts when outside. Do mobile phones or cell phones cause cancer? Research does not indicate that low-radiation devices like cell phones cause cancer.

Want to prevent cancer?

> Check out these 7 tips

5. Age

Exposure to cancer risk factors are cumulative. While aging isn’t a diet or lifestyle choice, it’s included because exposing ourselves to multiple risk factors over our lives leads to a greater chance of cancer.

6. Chemicals

Improperly handling carcinogenic chemicals can have negative health effects. Always follow warning labels and safety precautions.

7. Diet

Avoid eating processed meats like hot dogs, which contain chemical preservatives called nitrates. Limit eating red meat, ultra-processed foods and food with added sugars, like breakfast cereals.

Check the ingredient list and eat foods as close to their natural state as possible. Increase intake of both soluble and insoluble fibers.

8. Viral infections

A small number of viruses, like HPV, can take over our cells. In order to reproduce, they insert their DNA or RNA into our cells. The DNA or RNA can alter the cell, causing it to malfunction and result in cancer cells growing out of control.

9. Genetics

A family history of cancer may be out of our control, but it gives us a heads up on what to keep an eye on.

“A majority of these are preventable causes of cancer. The dangerous part – all of these risk factors can take years before leading to cancer,” Dr. Labayog said. “It’s hard to relate the bad choices to the resulting consequences. Living healthy, watching genetic risks and getting recommended screening tests are your best bets to avoid cancer.”

Last Updated: April 4, 2024

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About Author: David Pruitt

David Pruitt is a writer for the Marketing & Communications division of OSF HealthCare. He has a bachelor’s of journalism from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and worked as a reporter before joining OSF HealthCare in 2014.

An avid golfer and fisherman, David was born and raised Alton, Illinois, which is where he currently resides with his son, James.

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Categories: Cancer